THE WHITE ROOM (excerpt from The Sea of Lightning)
Session IV (from transcript)
DR.: You’ve had this recurring dream for a couple of weeks, maybe we should talk about that today.
OTTO: No —
DR.: I talked to the Directrix about your requests Otto. The matter is under consideration—
OTTO: Her answer of course is no.
DR.: But you don’t know that for a fact—
OTTO: Yes I do.
Do you think my demands are unreasonable, Doctor?
DR.: What does mean for you to be able to clean your own cell Otto? Does it give you a sense of autonomy? A sense of home, or control over your own environment?
OTTO: Why don’t you give me your own expert opinion doctor, why do we need to clean our rooms—
DR.: But we are all different Otto, me making my bed and smoothing the sheets is not quite the same thing as you. I suspect there might be some butterfly effect involved—
OTTO: You suspect or they suspect?
DR.: If you had to choose between the sleep regulator and cell maintenance, which would you choose?
OTTO: Well one goes with the other—I can’t very well be doped up and scrubbing my own floors. Doesn’t work that way.
DR.: I noticed your quarters are well kept.
OTTO: It’s hardly the point. Tell the Directrix I also have an additional request—
DR: Isn’t that pushing it a little—
OTTO: I also wish to be let out into the garden at daybreak.
DR: Any particular reason?
OTTO: I want to hear the birds singing.
DR: Any particular reason?
OTTO: Yes. Of course there is a particular reason, am I going to divulge it to you? Perhaps you can see the folly in that—
DR: Wherein lies the folly?
OTTO: If I am trying to conceal something, why would I reveal it to the surveillance camera? I would like to end the session right now.
DR.: I’m the doctor not you Otto.
OTTO: That’s right, I am the patient and I’d like to go back to my cell please.
I signal for the guards to come in. She sits there, a dark elegant sea of calm. A severe enigma, prison garb hanging off her frame: avant couture. When the guards arrive for her, she offers her neck, the crystal inserts and in seconds her head falls back into unconsciousness. Of a sort—I wonder if she was conscious of me in her quarters. How much does she know? How much am I oblivious to?
I find my way through the echoing maze of corridors and sunset shards, on my way to report to Madame la Directrix—even though she has been watching the entire session on the surveillance monitors. There is the early evening hum all about, the shuffling of inmates and duties. Several administrators walk past me with curt nods, if they are attempting to make me feel small and insignificant—they are succeeding.
The Directrix of Vézelay occupies quarters of spare and sleek opulence, the subliminal graphic quality of “nothing in excess—”
“So, Dr. Diallo—”
“Can you explain to me why her demands are so unreasonable—”
“Surely you must have intuited the reasons—”
“You are going to have to be a little more explicit, it doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to me. I often do laundry or clean out my drawers to relieve myself from stress. Otto could simply want the same—”
“It is very elementary doctor, the most basic of all magicks—”
“Cleaning your room is magic?”
“It is possessing control over your environment. You may recall the myths of genies in the bottle, the rubbing of the lamp—even the discovery of fire ‘frottage”—rubbing, polishing, striking—all these things invoke the powers that be in a place, the latent electrons, sleeping dragons—”
“I see. Why is it so terrible to be in control of one’s immediate environment?”
“Because the next step is to then recreate it as a simulacrum of the existing world, and as you might imagine, in this case it would be disastrous,”
“May I be frank—”
“What is it?”
“I don’t see what I’m doing here. I feel a little out of my depth —so much of this is outside my area of expertise—which is child psychiatry, not the occult—”
“Do you not feel you are making significant progress with the patient?”
“To be honest I really don’t think I am equipped to deal with Otto.” Or you for that matter. The Directrix suppresses a smile:
“Dr. Diallo, we summoned you here not because of your expertise in our specific circumstance—but more so because of your background. Not only have your worked successfully with problem children—you also have the same cultural/ political make up as Otto. You are closer in age and empathy to her and you are American. She likes you—and I believe that is mutual. I can play all the mind games I want with Otto, but I will not inspire her to curtail her ways. This is your job Doctor. Unravel her, we need to know what she is up to.”
Again the condescension: how long must I put up with this?
“Then I’d appreciate some sort of carte blanche. It’s not just about establishing trust—but also confidence—maybe her medication can be decreased so that she can spend a half hour in the garden at daybreak and then clean her room. Then she can be put back to sleep.”
“You really have no idea about Otto. What you are proposing is risky,”
“No. But I do know we won’t make any headway if there is no acquiescence. Bon soir, Madame.”
I get up and leave, the Directrix rises—
“Have a care Doctor,do not give Otto permission to enter your head—”
“When she says she wants to “show you” things—do not concede. Also, don’t speak to her in her sleep state—”
“You’ve mentioned this before, why?”
“If she gets into your head and you will cease to be objective—”
“Isn’t this the meaning of empathy, what you’ve hired me for?”
I don’t wait for her response. Exit.
Dinner bells are chiming. I pass by the refrectory, resolving to dine—but the empty hall is too disheartening. Most prisoners prefer to dine in their own cells and indeed the establishment encourages this. The staff: the librarians, the orderlies,—all seem to dine in cliques in their own quarters, or sometimes I have spotted them going into the village. I notify one of the kitchen staff that a dinner tray should be left in my study.
This is my life at Vézelay—it’s been only a week, but if feels like a year of solitude. I walk down the hill into the vineyards avoiding the sparsely populated village.
In the sky a flock of swallows execute their military maneuvers: they swoop, dive, curve effortlessly— why do they do that? In the vineyards, there is an ancient stone path—something leftover from Roman times — it leads into the forest. Walking, crushing new twigs. Thinking: druids, sacrifice, virgins… Darkening mood, darkening ponds, still, with shafts of light, shadow: ancient fires raging…
Every time we lose something we switch it on…
Is that you, Otto?
Druid shades emerge in the dusk and startle me. Beyond, the fortress of Vézelay: burial ground of Mary Magdalen’s relics…
Vézelay: a resting place, dust radiated and forbidding.
The Sea of Lightning ©2004, 2013 onome ekeh